TEXT OF INTERVIEW
SCOTT JAGOW: President Bush said this week he’s worried about democracy in Venezuela. That country’s leader, Hugo Chavez, responded by saying Bush is the real threat to democracy around the world. There’s no love lost between these two. What’s happening in Venezuela is an intriguing story. So we just sent our reporter Dan Grech down there. He’s joins us from Caracas.Dan, what will you be looking into?
DAN GRECH: Well the first question that I have is, Chavez who is so villainized in the United States, who is archenemy No. 1 of the United States, was actually reelected just this past December in a landslide. His margin of victory was the largest of any President in Latin America and there were 13 elections this past year. So I’m going to look at where the base of his popularity is and why in particular Venezuela’s poor are so dedicated and are so supportive of him.
JAGOW: Do you have any sense about that?
GRECH: You know, it all starts I think in his social programs. What really people love about him is the fact that he’s subsidized cars, that’s he’s offering free or inexpensive health care and that there are now parallel markets called mercales that offer food at a fraction of the price of the regular markets and one of the stories I’m going to do is going to focus on those mercales.
JAGOW: Well, Chavez was just reelected in December and he’s made a lot of moves to concentrate power again, that centralization idea. What has he been up to in the last month?
GRECH: He actually underwent the first nationalizations of his eight years in office, of telecom and electricity which just so happen to be two industries that are right now controlled by U.S. corporations. Two days ago, Venezuela’s parliament gave him the power to rule by decree for 18 months, so he’s basically got a carte blanche to do whatever he wants.
JAGOW: Yeah things have been going so fast, the Bush administration’s head is probably spinning about all this. I mean, how does the Bush administration feel about Chavez nationalizing everything including the oil fields.
GRECH: Well I think the Bush administration is nervous. On the face of it they say that they just want Chavez, he does nationalize oil, to reimburse the companies for what he takes, but the larger point is that the U.S. needs affordable oil from Venezuela. And without that oil the U.S. economy can’t run smoothly. But at the same time, and I think this is a point that’s not made often enough, is that Venezuela needs the U.S. I mean, the U.S. is Venezuela’s No. 1 customer, and so by buying Venezuelan oil, the U.S. is actually making Chavez’s revolution possible. And so when he’s doling out money to the poor in Caracas or to Bolivia or Nicaragua or Cuba, he’s handing out dollars.
JAGOW: Our Americas Desk correspondent, Dan Grech in Caracas, Venezuela.
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